Friday, April 16, 2010

Madam How's Two Grandsons

Once upon a time, certainly as long ago as the first man, or perhaps the first rational being of any kind, was created, Madam How had two grandsons. The elder is called Analysis, and the younger Synthesis. As for who their father and mother were, there have been so many disputes on that question that I think children may leave it alone for the present. For my part, I believe that they are both, like St. Patrick, "gentlemen, and come of decent people;" and I have a great respect and affection for them both, as long as each keeps in his own place and minds his own business.


Now you must remember, whenever you have to do with him, that Analysis, like fire, is a very good servant, but a very bad master. For, having got his freedom only of late years or so, he is, like young men when they come suddenly to be their own masters, apt to be conceited, and to fancy that he knows everything, when really he knows nothing, and can never know anything, but only knows about things, which is a very different matter. Indeed, nowadays he pretends that he can teach his old grandmother, Madam How, not only how to suck eggs, but to make eggs into the bargain; while the good old lady just laughs at him kindly, and lets him run on, because she knows he will grow wiser in time, and learn humility by his mistakes and failures, as I hope you will from yours.


Because Analysis can only explain to you a little about dead things, like stones—inorganic things, as they are called. Living things—organisms, as they are called—he cannot explain to you at all. When he meddles with them, he always ends like the man who killed his goose to get the golden eggs. He has to kill his goose, or his flower, or his insect, before he can analyse it: and then it is not a goose, but only the corpse of a goose; not a flower, but only the dead stuff of the flower.

And therefore he will never do anything but fail, when he tries to find out the life in things. How can he, when he has to take the life out of them first?

from Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley

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